Truth, Lies and Videotape: the Impact of Personality on the Memory For a Consumption Experience


Elizabeth Cowley and Marylouise Caldwell (2001) ,"Truth, Lies and Videotape: the Impact of Personality on the Memory For a Consumption Experience", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, eds. Mary C. Gilly and Joan Meyers-Levy, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 20-25.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, 2001     Pages 20-25


Elizabeth Cowley, University of New South Wales

Marylouise Caldwell, University of New South Wales

Recently, evidence has been reported suggesting that consumers’ memories for product experiences are not permanent, but that they can be affected by post-consumption information. The study reported here investigates whether personality variables help to explain when and how consumers, might be most susceptible to altering their memory and evaluation of a product or service with post-consumption information communicated through critical reviews.


Direct experience with products is an important means by which consumers learn cognitive and affective responses to a product or brand (Hoch and Deighton 1989; Smith 1993). Consumers frequently use memories for direct experiences with products as a basis for their behaviour. For example, when deciding if a product is satisfactory, superior to other products, or performing as it usually does, consumers compare current performance to memories of previous performance. Depending on the frequency of consumption in the product category, some time may pass between the experience and the retrieval of the memory. Generally, in the marketing literature, memories of consumption experiences are assumed to be permanently retained (Burke and Srull 1988). Consequently, although consumers might acquire information about products after consumption, memories for 'own experience’ would be stored separately from any new information about other consumers’ experiences. This assumption is critical because it allows consumers to learn from others, while keeping their own highly valued 'own experience’ memories unaltered.

A number of influences on memory have been considered in the marketing literature such as involvement (Berger and Mithell 1989; Park and Hastak 1994), product knowledge (Mitchell and Dacin 1996), processing goals (Huffman and Houston 1994) and age (Law, Hawkins and Craik 1998) to name only a few. Personality variables, however, have not been used to explain differences in memory for consumption related experiences. In this paper we demonstrate that personality variables drawn from the Five Factor Model (Costa and McCrae 1992; Wiggins and Trapnell 1997) help to explain how post-consumption information impacts on memory for consumption experience. This is an important first step at trying to identify both how and when consumers’ memory for consumption decisions are altered with post-experience information.


Post-Event Information and Memory

Recently, the permanence of memory has been questioned as consumers have been demonstrated to allow post-consumption information in the form of advertising, to alter their perceptual memory (Braun 1999), and visual memory (Braun and Loftus 1998) for a product. This is consistent with findings reported in eyewitness testimony and false memory literatures, which are replete with examples of instances where post-experience descriptions of the event, communicated by others, are included in the witness’s memory for an event (Loftus 1975; 1977; 1979). Information that is plausible and pertains to events for which little attention was paid during the original experience, is most commonly and confidently recognised as part of the original event (Migueles and Garcia-Bajos 1999).

Though often presented as a general phenomenon, there are conditions under which memory is most susceptible to post-consumption alteration. For instance, if some details of the experience were not processed deeply enough to retrieve later, and post-event information providing these details is processed, then when questioned about these details, the consumer may retrieve the post-consumption information. This vacant slot explanation assumes that only one memory trace is available in memory, because the information from the original experience was not encoded leaving a vacant slot that is filled in with post-event information (McCloskey and Zaragoza 1985). Imagine yourself having dinner in a restaurant with friends, great food, good conversation and good service. On the way home, one of your friends mentions that the best thing about the meal was the wine he selected for all to drink. You really can’t remember much about the wine, but your friend describes it as having a complex and full-bodied flavour with a long finish. Later, if questioned about the wine, you might remember it as described by your friend.

Another condition under which a consumer might retrieve post-consumption information instead of memory for the original experience is when a consumer feels uncertain about their ability to retrieve 'our experience’ information, but is certain that the source of post-event information can accurately remember the event. If the consumer is lacking confidence in their ability to remember the details of the original event, and they have information accessible in memory from a more reliable source, they may retrieve 'other’s experience’ information.

Finally, certain cosumers may feel compelled to agree with the opinion and recollection of others. Instead of relying on accessible 'own experience’ memories of a consumption episode, they choose to agree with the post-consumption information supplied to them by others. There is certainly plenty of evidence that the opinion of others affects an individual’s judgement (Asch 1953; Bone 1995; Cohen and Golden 1972; Pincus and Waters 1975; Venkatesan 1966).

One individual difference variable that has not been used in the study of consumer memory is personality, even though evidence is emerging indicating an important relationship between personality and the malleability of memory (Bruck, Ceci & Melnyk 1997; Caruso & Spirrison 1996; Quas, Qin, Schaaf & Goodman 1997). The following brief review of personality literature is intended to focus on sub-facets of personality traits that might predict which consumers might find themselves in one of these three situations: 1] without memory for the experience, 2] lacking confidence in memory for the experience, or 3] agreeing with others about the memory for an experience.


Personality refers to an individual’s relatively consistent responses to the environmental stimuli over time (Kassarjian and Sheffet 1991). Although various explanations of behavioural consistency associated with personality have been proposed, a trait based approach is currently most widely accepted (Ickes, Synder and Garcia, 1997). Trait theory sees humans behaving with comparative consistency over time as a result of stable behavioural traits. These traits contribute to relatively stable differential sensitivities to internal and external cues, which then lead to distinctive affective and cognitive states and behaviours (Revelle 1995). Traits are not good predictors of specific responses, rather they are useful in predicting types of behaviours given an understanding of perceptions of situational cues and psychological processes (Mischel and Shoda 1998; Revelle 1995). To add to this complexity, most behaviour is determined by the interaction of a number of traits rather than a single trait (Pervin 1985).

The Five Factor model provides a comprehensive and parsimonious trait based description of personality (Digman 1990; Ozer and Reise 1994; Wignell and Trapnell 1997), subsuming a wide range of well-established personality instruments (Digman 1996). There are five traits in the model; neuroticism, introversion/extroversion, agreeableness, openness to experience and conscientiousness, and each trait has six sub facets. Certain traits and sub facets of traits in the Five Factor Model of personality are of particular interest as we believe they relate to individual differences in suggestibility and false memory reports. For instance, whether an individual finds a situation threatening, interesting, or unusual, all of which affect encoding and retrieval (e.g. House 1975; Pickel 1998; Richards, French, Adams, Elderidge and Papadopolou 1999), depends on their sensitivities to external or internal cues which in turn are related to personality traits (Eysenck, Mogg, May and Richards 1991).

Personality and Memory

Although there has been little research into the impact of personality on the malleability of memory, the literature implicates at least three personality dimensions of the Five Factor Model. Anxiety, a sub-facet of neuroticism, has been identified as an influence on encoding, which ultimately affects memory. Competence, a sub-facet of conscientiousness, has been identified as a factor in suggestibility, and compliance, a sub-facet of agreeableness, has been identified as a determinant of response to a memory task. The following sections review the personality literature as it pertains to anxiety, compliance and competence.

Anxiety (a sub facet of Neuroticism). Dobson and Markham (1993) report that anxious subjects were less accurate in the recall of the central event in an episode, the crime in their study, than nonanxious subjects. They explain the results with a cognitive capacity argument which states that task-irrelevant worry limits working memory capacity for very anxious subjects. MacLeod and Donnelloni (1993) also demonstrate Eysenck's (1981) assertion that reduced working memory capacity explains the performance deficits found by anxious individuals. There are a number of inconsistencies in the literature, attributable in part to the different methods and scales for measuring anxiety. In general, the Yerkes-Dodson Law holds, anxiety improves performance on simple tasks demanding little cognitive capacity, but that anxiety appears to inhibit performance on cognitive demanding tasks (Eysenck 1981).

An individual high in trait anxiety may find it difficult to process the details of an event because of the expenditure on task irrelevant worry. However, if a consumer is able to process the post-experience information at their own pace, then the vacant slot may be filled with post-experience information.

Competence (a sub-facet of Conscientiousness). This subfacet measures people's confidence in their own abilities and is strongly related to self-esteem and internal locus of control (Costa and McCrae 1992). High self-esteem individuals are resistant to suggestibility (Bruck, Ceci and Melnyk, 1997) while low self-esteem individuals are more susceptible to the effects of self-relevant stimuli in their environment (Brockner 1984): he labels this low self-esteem plasticity. Plasticity may occur because: (i) low self-esteem people have a more uncertain self-concept, they are "more dependent on, susceptible to, and influenced by external self-relevant stimuli" (Campbell 1990, pp 539), (ii) the anxiety associated with low self-esteem hinders encoding or retrieval or (iii) self-esteem either negatively or positively impacts an individual’s efforts to accurately recall an actual event (Bruck, Ceci and Melnyk 1997). The plasticity of an individual low in self-esteem may result in their retrieving the post-experience information because they have more confidence that it is correct.

Compliance (a sub facet of Agreeableness). In an extensive review of the literature on Agreeableness, Graziano and Eisenberg (1997), note that researchers often associate the trait with friendly compliance, dependency and a tendency to conform to others’ wishes. Compliance, in a personality measure based on the Five-Factor Model, relates to these descriptions (Costa and McCrae 1992). Compliance ha been found to be a significant indicator of whether post-event interrogation results in an individual changing their memory for an event (Gudjonsson 1991).

The willingness to comply and conform, with the wishes or opinions of others allows for a susceptibility to suggestion by others. Individuals with a high score on compliance defer to others. It follows that people high in compliance are more likely to access a memory trace that represents the event as others believe it to have occurred.

Post-event information

When evaluating a product from direct experience, it has long been understood that exposure to the opinions of others will affect an individual’s overall evaluation, (Bone 1995; Cohen and Golden 1972; Pincus and Waters 1975; Venkatesan 1966). Consumers are exposed to a number of different types of information after consuming products, such as advertising, word-of-mouth and critic’s reviews. We are particularly interested in indirect forms of word-of-mouth, in this case, critical reviews. Previous research indicates that consumers use critical reviews as an information source during the decision to attend a particular movie (Faber and O’Guinn 1984; Wyatt and Badger 1984). There are situations however, where consumers are not exposed to the review until after they have viewed the film. Is it possible the critic’s words could influence consumers’ memory for the film and overall evaluation of the film? A critic’s review will be used here to test who is most likely to alter their memory for and evaluation of a movie on the basis of post-experience information.


H1: Individuals high in trait anxiety will find it difficult to retrieve 'own experience’ information from memory. They will be most susceptible to the vacant slot situation. This will be evidenced by a lower hit rate, and a greater number of 'know’ responses. High trait anxious individuals will also use the critic’s information to 'fill in’ the missing information when their anxiousness is combined with high trait compliance.

H2:Individuals low in trait competence will retrieve post-experience information when asked to retrieve information about the original experience because they will be more confident using the memory reported by another, more competent source. In this case, two memory traces exist in memory, these individuals will be using what they believe to be most accurate, but not necessarily their own memory for the event. This will be evidenced by a greater number of false alarms accompanied by 'remember’ responses for the information included in the critical review for low compared to high trait competent individuals. These individuals may also respond with 'know’ when correctly identifying information from the film because they are uncertain of their own ability to retrieve information from memory.

H3: Individuals high in trait compliance will retrieve information from the post-experience information when asked to retrieve information from the original experience because they tend to defer to others. They will not say they remember the information, but instead will tend to say they 'know’ they saw it before when incorrectly identifying information from the critic’s review as information seen in the film. In order to comply with the opinion of the critic, high trait compliance individuals will alter their overall evaluation for the event to be consistent with the critic, particularly when low in trait competence.


To test whether post event information alters memory for, and overall evaluation of, a consumption experience, subjects viewed a 10-minute excerpt from a movie and were provided a critical review of the movie. The critical review included plausible misinformation. Later, subjects were asked to 'recognise’ or identify the correct statements from a list of statements. The list is composed of plausible misinformation included in the review, plausible misinformation not in the review, and events from the film clip.


Seventy-four commerce undergraduate students at a large Australian university volunteered to participate in the study. The age of the subjects varied between 18 and 33, with a mean age of 23 years old. Forty of the subjects were female, 34 were male.


After a lecture on an unrelated topic, students were asked if they would be willing to participate in a research study on "movie-goers’ preferences and market segmentation". Each participant was asked to answer 18 questions taken from the NEO-PI for the sub-facets of compliance, competence, and anxiety. Students then viewed a 10-minute excerpt from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, a movie that had been released nine years earlier.

One week later, students were asked to read a critical review ostensibly taken from a local paper. Students were then asked to answer 21 questions about their movie attendance and the decison making process involved in attendance, and for their evaluation of the film clip. Students were asked to answer 40 multiple-choice questions. The 40 questions included 20 correct statements about the movie (target statements), 10 incorrect statements taken from the critical review (critic foils) and 10 incorrect statements that were not present in the review (misinformation foils). The instructions for the recognition questions were as follows: "Please indicate whether each of the statements describe the movie you saw one week ago by circling 'Yes’. Please indicate which statements do not describe something that you saw in the movie by circling 'No’. If you circle 'Yes’ then please indicate whether you remember seeing the event in the movie or whether you know the event occurred. Circle 'Remember’ if you can remember seeing the event, or if you remember something that you thought when you saw the event. Circle 'Know’ if you believe that you did see the event in the movie, but do not have any clear memory of the event." [These instructions are modelled after Roediger and McDermott (1995).] Students indicated their evaluation of the film clip on three eleven-point scale anchored with 'bad/good’, 'unfavourable/favourable’ and 'desirable/undesirable’. Finally, subjects were asked if they had seen the film before, and if so, when.


The critical review was 320 words and was described as an excerpt of "a review published in a local Sydney paper in 1991, the year the film was released in Australia. The review has been edited to include the comments made by the reviewer about the portion of the film that you saw last week." The critique was either positive or negative and included both correct information from the movie and ten pieces of plausible misinformation. Thirty seven students saw the positive review and 37 students saw the negative review. The misinformation was the same in both versions. Examples of the misinformation are italicised in the following excerpt from the critique.

Playwright Tom Stoppard has scripted and directed a film about two minor characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead tells the other side of the famous story. Two friends Rosencrantz (Gary Oldman) and Guildenstern (Tim Roth) find themselves in a most confusing situation. Hamlet’s (Iain Glen) old friends invite themselves to Denmark to visit the Queen and new King, Hamlet’s mother and uncle. The King and Queen encourage Hamlet’s favourite confidantes to discover how Hamlet feels about Ophelia. The King promises that he will pay them handsomely for their effort.


Personality. Subjects were scored using the guidelines supplied with the NEO-Pi scale. Split medians are used on these scores to divide subjects into high and low groups for anxiety, compliance, and competence sub-facets of neuroticism, agreeableness and conscientiousness traits respectively. Though personality traits are generally reported to be uncorrelated, there are two significant correlations between the sub-facets in this dataset: compliance and competence are negatively correlated (-0.31, p < 0.001), as are competence and anxiety (-0.24, p < 0.05).

Recognition. On the recognition test subjects were asked to indicate whether or not they had seen the statement in the videotape. Suggestibility is tested using the subject’s false alarm rate on misinformation foils compared to critic foils, and the hit rate for the target statements.

Evaluation. The three ratings provided by the subject were summed for the overall evaluation of the film clip.


All General Linear Models (GLMs) mentioned in this section are three-way GLMs with two levels of trait compliance, competence and anxiety. The first hypothesis states that high trait anxiety subjects will find retrieving 'own experience’ memories very difficult because they do not have vivid memories of the consumption episode possibly due to the task-irrelevant worry that may have reduced their working memory capacity. Consequently, their hit rate should be lower than low trait anxiety subjects, and they should be more likely to respond 'know’.

The level of trait anxiety is a significant factor in the results (F (1, 1472) = 21.05, p < 0.0001). The hit rate for high trait anxious subjects was 0.47 which is not statistically different than chance. The hit rate for low trait anxious subjects was 0.60 which is significantly different than chance (p < .001). [Overall, high trait anxious subjects were not as accurate at differentiating between target and foil statements, this difference is directional only. The Luce=s a statistic, which is similar to the d= measure, was 1.27 for high trait anxious subjects and 1.51 for low trait anxious subjects (higher a statistics reflect better recognition performance). Using signal detection theory, however, is problematic in this case. The intensity of the stimulus varies because critic foils were actually seen at some point, while misinformation foils were not. Essentially the question is not >Did I see this before or not?=, it is >Did I see this in the movie, in the review, or not at all?=.] High trait anxious subjects responded 'know’ more often than low trait anxious subjects ((F(1, 733) = 25.59, p < 0.0001), high = 46% 'know’ responses, low = 24% 'know’ responses). Contrary to our expectations, false alarm rates for high trait anxious subjects for the critic foils were not greater than for low trait anxious individuals nor were they different than for misinformation foils. It appears that high trait anxious subjects are most likely to find themselves without memory for the original experience, but were not necessarily more likely to use post-experience information.



The second hypothesis states that low trait competence subjects will retrieve the events as reported by another, more competent source. The critic, who may be considered a more competent source, provided the subject incorrect information in the form of a critical review of the film. [Though competency of the critic was not tested specifically, there were questions in the filler task that relate to the issue. Subjects were asked to state their agreement with the following statement >In general, critics are unbiased= on a scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The scale was coded from +3 to -3. Although there was a general consensus among the sample that critics are unbiased, those low in competence were particularly likely to express confidence in the credibility of critical review (F(1, 73)=4.03, p<0.05).] If low trait competence subjects use the critic’s memory, their false alarms on the critic foil statements will be accompanied by 'remember’ responses. If they are uncertain of their own responses, their correct identifications of target statements will be accompanied by 'know’ responses. A GLM of responses for the critic foil statements reveals competence is a significant factor (F(1, 413) = 19.91, p < 0.0001), low trait competent people were more likely to respond 'remember_ information identified from the film that was actually from the critic’s review (low = 64.1%, high = 40.4%). A GLM of responses for the target statements also reveals competence as a significant factor (F(1, 733) = 4.91, p < 0.05), low competence individuals were more likely to response 'know’ than high trait competent individuals (low = 38.4%, high = 29.6%). Competence also predicts accuracy, the hit rate for high trait competent subjects was 0.60 compared to the hit rate for low trait competent subjects 0.45. [The Luce=s a statistic also supports the hypothesis, more trait competent subjects were more accurate than less trait competent subjects (F(1, 79)=3.77, p<0.05).] The pattern of results is consistent with the hypotheses, it appears that low trait competence subjects find themselves willing to use a more competent source of information’s recollection of the event over their own.

The third hypothesis states that high trait compliant subjects will be likely to have a high false alarm rate for the critic foils, particularly compared to the misinformation foils. A GLM run on the false alarm rate for critic foils reveals that compliance is the only significant factor (F(1, 727) = 4.8, p < 0.05). High trait compliant individuals did not claim to 'remember’ the false information, they more often claimed that they 'knew’ it to be true (F(1, 413) = 5.41, p < 0.05, low = 41.2% know, high 53.9% know). Not surprisingly, everyone was more likely to respond 'yes’ to a critic foil, than they were to a misinformation foil (F(1, 1465) = 48.32, p < 0.0001), in particular, it was high in compliance / low in competence / low in anxiety subjects that remembered the information from the critic’s review and falsely stated it was from the film clip (F(1, 1465) = 4.63, p < 0.05).

Hypothesis three also states that high trait compliant / low trait competent subjects will alter their overall evaluation for the event based on post-experience information. Here we would expect this group to rate the film clip more positively if they saw the positive review and more negatively if they saw the negative review. There was a general tendency amongst all subjects to agree with the critic’s review of the film (F(1, 70) = 13.39, p < 0.005). However, the strongest effect is amongst those subjects high in trait compliance / low in trait competence (F(1, 70) = 4.51, p < 0.05). See Table 1 for cell means. It appears that high trait compliant / low trait competence subjects felt compelled to agree with the opinion and recollection of an event, even when the details may conflict with their 'own experience’ memory.


In this paper we outlined some situations under which memory might be most susceptible to the influence of post-event information. We then used personality traits to predict who might be likely to find themselves in these situations. Although individual differences have been used to explain memory performance in a marketing context in the past, personality traits have not been among the selected differences.

Our results are consistent with Eysenck’s (1981) claim that high trait anxiety may result in a working memory capacity deficit that limits the amount of processing that occurs during an experience. High trait anxious subjects were not as able to correctly identify the statements that accurately depict the facts seen in the film clip which is consistent with encoding deficits due to task irrelevant worry.

We also found evidence that low trait competence subjects are more likely to rely on the opinion of others as correct because competence is related to self-esteem and self-efficacy. This finding is in line with past reserch in eyewitness testimony revealing a relationship between self-efficacy and susceptibility to suggestion with leading questions (Mazzoni 1998). This is also important in this context because the subjects indicated that they believed the critic to be unbiased in his/her evaluation for the movie.

The data revealed that low trait competence / high trait compliance / low anxiety subjects were most likely to falsely recognise a fact from the critic’s review as occurring in the film. Low trait competence and high trait compliance appears to affect the retrieval strategy used by the individual whether they are concerned with being accurate or consistent with others, while high trait anxiety affects encoding. We also found that these subjects displayed a general tendency to agree with the critic’s review, whether positive or negative, which is consistent with past literature in both marketing and psychology. The most likely people to be affected by the opinions of others are high trait compliant/low trait competent. Consumer’s decisions rely on memory for evaluations of past experiences for the same brand and other brands. Understanding how and when consumers’ memories for consumption experiences can be altered by post-consumption information helps to explain the behaviour of consumers. The evidence reported here suggests that personality traits contribute to an understanding of when 'own experience’ memory is most susceptible to alteration.

There are a number of different ways in which research could proceed in this area. First, human behaviour is considered by trait theorists to be comparatively consistent over time as a result of stable behavioural traits (Revelle 1985). A longitudinal study examining the behaviour of individuals over time within similar situations would allow for a test of whether the competence, compliance and anxiety traits explain memory for 'own experience’ compared to 'others’ experience’.

Second, trait theory, which is used here, is not the only paradigm in personality research; another group called the Interactionists has also contributed to the literature. At its most extreme interactionism asserts that individual differences in behaviour are a result of stable differences in situations rather than enduring personal dispositions (Magnusson and Torestad 1993; Rorer and Widiger 1983). The focus of research is on processing dynamics and mediating units such as perceptions, expectancies and goals (Mischel and Schoda 1998). Recently there has been some reconciliation between the trait theorists and the interactionists (Mathews and Deary 1998; Mischel and Shoda, 1998; Van Heck, Perugini, Caprara and Froger, 1994). Researchers now view a trait statement as "the conditional probability of a category of behaviours given a category of contexts" (Mathews and Deary, 1998; p. 43). A series of studies manipulating the situation and measuring for variation due to personality, situation, or the interaction of the two, would allow for a better understanding of what has driven the results in this study.


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Elizabeth Cowley, University of New South Wales
Marylouise Caldwell, University of New South Wales


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28 | 2001

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